David Garrett and the peace of the dead
I thought about De Lillo's satire when I read about former Act MP and right-wing activist David Garrett's latest ideas. Writing on Kiwiblog, the website of National Party pollster David Farrar, Garrett expressed enthusiasm for Donald Trump, and suggested that a Trump administration might like to implement a 'Garrett peace plan for the Middle East':
Turn the entire region into a nuclear wasteland uninhabitable for one hundred years - with plenty of warning...My solution is not so much 'mass murder', it is to make the Middle East uninhabitable - and to make the sacred sites that shared - or not shared - by the various groups who claim exclusive rights to them nothing but radioactive pieces of sand. Maybe some of them would still be stupid enough to fight over those...but then the occupiers would get radiation sickness...
Garrett's proposal would probably make sense to Don De Lillo's nihilistic hero. The Middle East is the size of Australia, and has over four hundred million people. Thousand of nuclear warheads would have to fall on the region, if it were to be rendered uninhabitable. So much radiation would enter the atmosphere that the human species would soon become extinct. The world would be at peace.
recent column at Kiwiblog to call for New Zealand to close its borders immediately to migrants from majority Muslim nations, including refugees from Syria. It is something of a surprise, then, to see Garrett urging a policy that aimed to create not a few million but a few hundred million refugees from the Middle East.
Garrett became indignant when several Kiwiblog readers queried his 'peace' plan. He denied that the Middle East was such a big area, insisting that it was not much larger than the North Island of New Zealand. He suggested that his nuclear campaign would be aimed at Arabs and Jews, but not at other ethnic groups in the Middle East, like the Persians of Iran. Garrett defended his plan by saying that the conflict between the Arabs and the Jews had no other possible solution:
Being a political animal, I think about such problems all the time...along with hundreds nay, thousands of political thinkers and statesmen over the last sixty years who have applied their minds to this...no solution has ever eventuated.
It would be comforting to consider David Garrett an isolated crank, and ignore his ideas. But for a decade now Garrett has had regular access to New Zealand's mass media and to popular right-wing websites. He publishes opinion pieces in the New Zealand Herald, had a column in Ian Wishart's Investigate magazine, and is a fixture at Kiwiblog. Despite leaving parliament in disgrace in 2010, when his enemies inside the Act Party revealed that he had been convicted of stealing a dead child's identity and creating a fraudulent passport, Garrett has maintained a following on the right.
Garrett is not the only activist on the New Zealand right excited by Donald Trump. In America, Trump has split the Republicans by substituting a sort of populist ethnonationalism for the neo-liberal policies preferred by the party's traditional elite (in an important article for The Week, Michael Brendan Dougherty has shown how Trump's statist populism can be traced back to the campaigns that Patrick Buchanan ran for the Republican nomination for president in 1992 and 1996). Trump has won support from angry and demoralised white working class voters by promising to use the guns and nukes and tariffs to reverse America's decline in the world.
share the distaste of most Republican leaders for Trump. But many of the readers of Kiwiblog and of Cameron Slater's Whale Oil blog seem to admire Trump's attacks on Muslims, Mexicans, and liberals.
David Garrett's advice for Trump might seem extreme, but it is not so different from the eliminationist rhetoric that is becoming common when both the American and the New Zealand right discuss the Middle East. In the aftermath of the failure of George Bush's invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, conservatives who once dreamed of remaking the Middle East in the image of America have denounced the region as ungrateful and irredeemably barbarous. Whether because of culture, religion, or blood, the Arabs and other peoples of the Middle East are, an increasing number of right-wingers insist, a permanent danger to the rest of the world. They must be quarantined, or nuked, or both.
[Posted by Scott Hamilton]